This past Saturday saw Carl Froch avenge his 2010 defeat at the hands of Mikkel Kessler in what was arguably the most anticipated boxing match of the year so far. Although the scores were similar to the original Kessler vs. Froch results, but in reverse, the points only tell so much of the story. In Herning, the two super middleweight champions engaged in a hard, closely fought match that saw Kessler’s technique give him just enough of an edge to carry more rounds.
By contrast, this weekend’s London rematch saw Froch carry the rounds he won in a clear, decisive fashion. He waded through hard shots that would have sent any other man, perhaps even Andre Ward, wobbling, asserted his will, and made Kessler struggle hard just to contest the notion that Froch was the man. It was a spirited, competitive engagement throughout, but Froch walked away with a much cleaner win in the rematch than Kessler won in the original installment.
Before the fight, the Viking Warrior ruminated that were he to lose, he would consider retiring. In the wake of such a defeat, the question becomes would such a retirement be premature, or is it perhaps coming too late?
Why Froch Won
The first point to address in pondering Kessler’s retirement is how Froch was able to improve his performance so markedly. After the fight, Froch says he borrowed from Andre Ward’s playbook, and while I don’t doubt that he did, the psychological aspects of the fight were clearly what made Froch the clean victor that night.
He went into the fight riding a wave of success after his knockout defeat of Lucian Bute; he was fighting before his adoring home country crowd; and he was motivated to even the score against Kessler. With all that pushing him forward and sustaining him in the ring, in retrospect it’s no wonder that he took a succession of heavy power shots from the Great Dane as if they were mere slaps. That night, Froch became the juggernaut, the irresistible force.
Realizing Froch’s huge psychological advantage is critical to evaluating any rubber match between Froch and Kessler, since a third fight would almost certainly take place in a neutral location, and Froch would no longer be burning to even the score. He would still be confident and riding high on a wave of success, but the other two-thirds of his advantage would no longer be a factor. Froch the Ironman might have made his one and only appearance vis-a-vis Mikkel Kessler.
Can Kessler Compete?
The other side to this equation is Kessler himself, and whether he has the physical wherewithal to continue. On the one hand, it’s clear that Carl Froch simply was not going to be beaten that night, but on the other, one can’t help but think that Kessler was not operating at 100%.
The Viking Warrior’s health has not been the best in recent years. He took more than a year off after the first bout with Froch to recuperate from eye problems, fought a tune-up, and then required surgery that ultimately mandated a further year on the shelf. While not quite rusty, Kessler was certainly not razor sharp this weekend, and his medical problems might point to increasing fragility and possibly being on an objective downslide.
Retire or Rubber Match?
The question of whether Kessler should retire or not hinges entirely on his physical state. If he is healthy and sound enough to fight two or three times per year, he should get back in the game, get sharp, and seek a rubber match with Froch next year.
If Kessler can’t sustain what is the normal pace for a modern professional fighter at the top of the sport, then he should continue only if he needs the money, and then only for a short time. Even at 90%, Mikkel Kessler is still a better fighter than anyone in the division except for Ward or Froch.
Yet if he has reached a point where his absolute best is actually shrinking, then the only thing out there for him now are paydays, and in that case Kessler needs to be setting the stage for his retirement. While top fighters undeniably climb through the ropes for the money, they ultimately achieve great things for reasons other than how many zeros are on their paycheck.